This post came to me at 2am on a Thursday, a workday no less. But as a writer, you learn that the best writing comes to you and if not written, leaves and visits another unsuspecting soul. It came to me this quiet morning, as I lay curled up in my bed, that I have now been a teacher for 20 years and in minutes a list of 10 things formed in my head and onto my Iphone's to do-list. Again, as a writer you know to always write down good ideas as they come. So here is my list of 10 things that matter.........enjoy.
1. Parental involvement matters, a lot: Okay, this is THE most important one. You want to give your child a HUGE, and I mean HUGE step up in the world? Two words: get.involved. This does not need to mean you need to get them into clubs, or pay for fancy tutors, piano lessons, etc, NO! this means just simply get involved with your child's life. Did you know Keith Haring's dad use to sit him on his lap as a child and they'd draw together? I do not for a minute doubt that his dad's simple act of doing this mundane and simple task was a major factor in his future success. As you see, parental involvement does not need to be complicated, in fact, the more simple the better. As a grown person, we know so much more than this little person we are raising, simply trust your gifts, whatever they may be and give them to your child in the form of doing it beside them and ultimately with them. If you are good at sewing, teach your child how to sew, if you are a creative person, have them help you while you are creating. It does not mater if your passion is folding laundry or doing the dishes, have them join you while you do the things you are good at. If you fish on Sundays, take them along and let them experience your passion and most importantly you love of life. You see, you don't need to pay anyone to teach your child anything. In fact, paying someone has its benefits; these are nice perks but they are not going to pack the punch your own loving teaching can muster. If you must decide between giving your child things and giving him your time, choose your time, always, 100%. You see, it's to the skill that you are necessarily imparting here. While its important, what is more important is the love, time, energy that is embedded in the act of sharing with your child. Their sense of worth and belonging is strengthened and because of it they will grow to be emotionally stronger, more self-confident, fearlessly outspoken, and yes, while not the main point, skillful, at something. The list of benefits can extend to the moon and back. I could elaborate all day, but to make it simple, you cannot pay someone to do your child rearing, it's a messy and emotionally tasking job but only you, the parent/caretaker, can unlock the many gifts that your time, energy and love can provide.
2. Words matter: We all already know the possible destructive value of words, yet, we often fail to also see its value and potential in saving a child's heart. How we speak to kids matters so much. I'm talking about tone, I'm talking about word choices, I'm talking about loving words, and prophetic statements. As the grown up in a child's life we have the ability to see this child's gifts before they do, let them know you see these gifts in them. "You are so creative", "You see things in people before others, this is such a gift!", "You will be an excellent grownup one day." "Your kind words makes my heart soar". The love, the care, prophetic potential of such words are worth more than words can say, excuse the pun. Somewhere, I read that the way we speak to kids become their inner voice. This really stuck with me and has shaped how I address not only my own kids but also the students I teach. Words, when used with heart in mind, communicate love, care, and a sense of belonging.
3. How you display work matters: When I started teaching I would always witness teachers threaten to put the art works of kids in the trash if they did not behave. This practice did not feel right, yet, as a young teacher I lacked the awareness to be able to describe why this bothered me. Once you become a parent, it becomes very clear why this is bad. One day, my son brought home a bobble-head clay figure he did in art class and said he was going to throw it into the trash. No matter what it looked like, it was his work and I forbid him from tossing it. I have it to this day. It's one of my favorite little figurines. Products made by children should be treated with respect, whether they are writing pieces, art pieces, it does not matter what the product is. If you are going to take the time display their work then take the time to make a label, a description. Took any pictures of the process? print them and hang them up too, tell a story of your process in pictures. you don't have a color printer? who cares....hang them in black and white. Did they comment anything meaningful about their work? jot it down, type it up and hang that too alongside the actual work! You don't have to be an art teacher to do this. You do not have to be creative to do this. Come on, we are teachers, we already know how to do this.... do not bother the school art teacher to make you labels....(that is another blog post.....)
4. Emotional intelligence matters: I have worked at 7 schools over the years. In every school I've worked there have been anywhere between 50-120 staff whom we interact with, on various levels, on a daily basis. You will not survive long in a school without emotional intelligence. Humans are messy people. Every single one of us brings to the table our little idiosyncrasies, our triggers, our mental narratives, our biases. Some teachers crash and burn fast without the right tools to survive in such a place. To stay afloat, I try to keep things super simple, here are my two basic rules for maintaining a fresh and positive attitude at work.
* One, DO YOUR JOB, and ONLY your job. Whatever it is you were hired to do at this school, do it to 100% of your ability. If you can do it better than, awesome, but certainly hit that 100% mark. If you are not sure about what your job entails completely, make sure you clarify this ASAP.
* Two, Only CARRY.YOUR.OWN.LOAD. I believe that helping other teachers is absolutely fine and dandy for maybe new teachers and for short emergencies, but helping chronically sinking teachers to stay afloat, and at the detriment of your own sanity, health and professionalism, HELL NO!. This is not helping your students and especially that teacher's students, and ultimately, the kids are who we are here to serve.
5. Community matters: I know this because I have lived it. You can sit and complain that the school you are at is not what you want, but the reality of the matter is that you can be the person that helps make the community you want. Of course, you can always leave one school in search for "greener pastures". I have done this a few times. Yet, switching schools in search for greener pastures is like getting rid of one used car in exchange for another, yes, you won't have the current problems anymore, but others, possibly worse problems, may arise. How we collectively see our roles in the school dictates the school culture. School culture can make or break a sense of community. School culture can be driven and affected by anyone, not JUST the leaders of the school. This is both hopeful and terrifying. Hopeful because YOUR place in this community has so much potential for shifting the entire culture, but also terrifying, for the same reason.
6. Trust matters: When teachers reach a level of trust with one another pure magic happens. Amazing units, creative collaborations only happen when trust exist amongst teachers. This is important for revolving door school systems that hire and fire new teachers every few years do not see how they are poking holes in the very fragile fabric that's need ed for excellent teaching.
7. Self awareness matters: With this I simply wanted to highlight that your NO matters. Like when you are asked to do task XYZ by tomorrow and the person asking has no understanding of your already growing lists of tasks, you speak up and in the most kindest, most polite way say a clean NO. Being able to advocate for your time, your existing knowledge of what your kids need, what you need to do amazing teaching comes with knowing yourself. We will forever tun into people who have NO idea hat we do, when we do what we do, what we teach and how long it takes to plan for these things. For hundreds of years in the past and hundreds of years in the future there will always be other teachers, admin, family that will assume the nature of your job and add to your list of tasks due to these assumptions. Be aware of your needs and limitations, for only then will you speak up to defend them.
8. Our teacher voice matters: Just because millionaires think they know what's best for our kids does not mean they do. The mere fact that they are rich does not make them expect on the little guys you see daily. YOUR VOICE, YOUR OPINIONS, YOUR PERSPECTIVE matters. Become involved with what s happening in schools and become that voice that comes paced with experience, something those business entrepreneurs and millionaires do not have. no, online education is not the future of education, no, fresh young teachers are not better than experienced ones, NO! pay for performance only creates distrust, competitiveness and stress amongst educators, who thought that up?!!!!
9. Stories matter: As teachers we need to begin to use narratives as a friend. Not only do displays that tell the story of the process makes the viewers better connect with the work, but also, embedding what we teach into a narrative helps kids become more fully invested in their own education. I know the important of story through my lack of math skills. Do you know that not one of my math classes actually took the time to explain to me HOW these math concepts were to be meaningful to me. As a result I suck at math. I do! My kids who are on 6th and 8th grade know ore math than me, it's embarrassing. Couching a story, a narrative a WHY will help kids make sense of the world...and maybe better at math.
10. Drama. It does not matter: This goes right along with emotional intelligence above, but I felt it needed its own category. As a teacher, you will witness lots of drama over the years. Make no mistake, dramas are driven and fed by very specific people, they don't just happen. If you are a new teacher pay attention and quickly learn who is stirring the pot of drama. If you are a seasoned teacher, well, you already know these people. Stay FAR away from Mrs. Gossip, Ms. Complainer, Mr. Everyone-sucks, also, stay way clear of Mr. Kids-these-days and most importantly, as an art teacher, I stay far, far, away from Mrs. Can-you-make-me-me-a-quick-sign.